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October 12, 2004


Bush, Kerry showed their strengths in school

Knight Ridder News Service

Seeing President Bush rally people with a bullhorn from atop the mound of rubble where the World Trade Center once stood reminded Tom Seligson of Bush in a more innocent time.

"When I saw him after 9-11 with the bullhorn, it fit," said Seligson, who attended prep school with Bush. "His response to terrorism was grabbing a bullhorn at ground zero, basically challenging us to rise above it. This was no different from the George -- the cheerleader with a megaphone at Andover -- of 40 years ago."

But the Bush known then by his classmates at the exclusive prep school and at Yale University and the Bush known now around the world are two distinct figures: one seemingly carefree and privileged, the other burdened by the pressures of the Oval Office.

Bush the 'Lip'

Yet those early years -- from Bush's entry into Andover in 1961 to his graduation from Yale in 1968 -- did much to shape his character and form beliefs that many say he took to the White House.

"Andover and Yale, in many ways, have a greater import in shaping the core personality of Bush than any other period," said Bill Minutaglio, the author of First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty. "It not only shaped his worldview as an adult and his public policy as a politician. If Bush's policy is about going it alone, defining the world in black and white, you could say it started back then."

George W. Bush answered to many titles during his high school and collegiate days, but future president of the United States wasn't one of them.

Andover classmates nicknamed him "Lip" for his wisecracking ways at the then all-boys Massachusetts boarding school. He dubbed himself "Tweeds Bush" -- after the infamous Boss Tweed of New York's Tammany Hall -- while others called him the "High Commissioner of Stickball" for organizing teams to play rollicking games on the usually staid campus.

His teachers called him an earnest but unspectacular student; he earned a zero on the first paper he wrote at Andover for using a word that appalled the professor.

Despite his family's political pedigree, few people saw any sign in young George of an ambition to end up in the White House. They saw a fun-loving fraternity prankster more interested in partying than politics, and a person eager to step beyond the shadow of his father.

Some Bush friends think that's overly simplistic. They say his affability overshadowed his intelligence and obscured the budding political skills that he employs today: an ability to get people to like and support him, a knack for organization and a fierce determination to stand firm in his beliefs.

"He's very street-smart, and people always underestimate him," said Lanny Davis, a Yale fraternity brother who went on to help President Clinton persevere through several White House scandals. "He was one of the friendliest, most down-to-earth, unpretentious people at Yale," said Davis, who says he likes Bush personally but loathes his policies.

Bush's path from adolescence to adulthood began in the same place as his father's: Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. The elder George Bush became a campus legend: senior class president, captain of the baseball team and a student who bucked advice from Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Andover's 1942 commencement speaker, by putting off college to enlist in the Navy and enter World War II.

Bush the father stood as a man of New England, the son of Sen. Prescott Bush of Connecticut. Though also born in Connecticut, George W. Bush became very much a child of Texas, growing up in Midland and Houston.

When the 15-year-old Bush arrived at Phillips in 1961, he found the transition from Texas to New England daunting in terms of climate and attitude.

"Andover was cold and distant and difficult," Bush wrote in his political biography, A Charge to Keep. "In every way I was a long way from home."

Bush said he had to adjust from the "happy chaos" of the Bush household in Texas to Andover's discipline.

"We wore coats and ties to class," he wrote. "We went to chapel every day, except Wednesday and Saturday. There were no girls. Life was regimented. ... I missed my parents and brothers and sister. It was a shock to my system."

Bush also struggled in class. For his first essay -- on emotions -- he wanted to impress his "eastern professors" by using "big, impressive words." Looking for a way to describe tears running down his face, he consulted the Roget's Thesaurus that his mother had given him. He replaced tears with the word lacerates.

The teacher marked the paper with a zero so bold that "it left an impression all the way through the back of the blue book," Bush wrote.

Tom Lyons, who taught history and became one of Bush's favorite teachers at Andover, said his young student tried hard in class but struggled to keep up at the academically formidable school.

"He did not stand out," said Lyons, who retired in 1999 after 35 years at Andover. "He was just a solid kid who worked hard and did average work."

Outwardly, Bush didn't seem to dwell on his struggles, friends and classmates say. He became a larger-than-life figure, someone whom almost everyone knew and regarded as an outgoing, friendly guy who played sports but did not excel at them and enthusiastically served as head football cheerleader in his senior year.

"He was comfortable in his own skin, a straightforward guy who knew what he thought," Seligson said. "He never suffered the adolescent angst the way many other people did. He found his way there by being an outgoing, rah-rah cheerleader."

Frat life

Yale wasn't the comfortable cocoon for Bush that Andover had been, several of his friends and classmates say. The Vietnam War and America's domestic strife were spilling onto college campuses. Bush, by his own admission, didn't actively participate in the social changes swirling around him.

"I was not part of the flower-child revolution," he told Knight Ridder in 1999. "I was concerned, but I wasn't marching in the streets. I didn't go to Woodstock."

Minutaglio, the author, said Bush "chose to isolate himself from the very complex issues of the day. It seems he deliberately, almost defiantly, withdrew into a world he was most comfortable with, almost a 1950s world."

Bush embraced the traditional college life -- with gusto. He joined the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and, like his father, gained initiation into Skull and Bones, a secretive, high-status campus social club.

Police arrested Bush in 1966 on suspicion of disorderly conduct arising from the theft of a Christmas wreath from a storefront to decorate the fraternity house. Authorities later dropped the charges.

DKE had a reputation for hearty partying, and Bush served as chapter president in 1966-67.

"There was a 'draft Bush' movement because it was a job of being socially comfortable and attracting the best women on campus," Davis said. "He succeeded. DKE had the best parties."

Bush became known for an ability to move effortlessly among the different groups on campus. He began displaying a politician's knack for remembering names, faces and events that would enable him to talk to people he'd met months before as if it were only yesterday.

Though he praises Bush's partying skills at Yale, Davis said it is a mistake to think of Bush back then as strictly a Good Time Charlie. He said Bush was gifted with "analytical people skills" that allowed him to sum up someone quickly.

Bush also was sensitive. Davis recalls sitting with Bush and some other schoolmates in their dorm talking about people when one of them began razzing a male student, whom he thought to be gay, as the young man walked by.

"Someone made a snickering comment and used the word queer," Davis said. "Bush turned and told the guy who made the remark, 'Look at walking in the other guy's shoes.' I'll never forget that."

George W. Bush

Age: 58

Party: Republican

Residence: Crawford

Occupation: President

Background: U.S. president, 2001-present; Texas governor, 1995-2000; U.S. House candidate, 1978; general partner, Texas Rangers baseball organization, 1989-94; founder and chief executive, Bush Exploration, 1975-86; pilot, Texas Air National Guard, 1968-73.

Education: Bachelor of arts, Yale University, 1968; master of business administration, Harvard University, 1975.

Web site:

FINAL DEBATE: President Bush and Democrat Sen. John Kerry meet for the third and final presidential debate at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. The debate, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS, will focus on domestic issues. It is scheduled to be broadcast live by CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, C-SPAN and MSNBC.



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